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Daily View: Big Society plans

Clare Spencer | 09:26 UK time, Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Commentators review David Cameron's "Big Society" plans.

Conservative MP and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Local Democracy Rory Stewart gives his experience in the Times [subscription required] of big society in Cumbria:

David Cameron

"It is not necessarily about charities or even the private sector, both of which are capable of manufacturing jargon as impenetrable and procedures as rigid as the most Byzantine bureaucracy. Nor is it about atomised individuals allowed to do whatever they want.
"It's about collective action. We have more common land in Cumbria than anywhere in Britain; stronger co-ops and mutualised banks; we support everything from the air ambulance to mountain rescue. These are not undertaken by grand philanthropists; they are about collective endeavour, be it on planning, financing, building, maintaining or supporting. This is what we mean by local democracy."

Aditya Chakrabortty suggests in the Guardian that voters may not want to be given choice:

"[W]hat ministers have promised time and again over the last couple of weeks is much greater choice in some of the most important aspects of our lives: schools, hospitals, community services. Whenever they describe the sunlit uplands of choice, David Cameron and his men make two linked claims: first, that we are better off shopping around for public services, and second, that the exercising of choice will force headteachers and hospital managers to raise their game. Nor is that solely a Tory belief: Tony Blair (remember him?) used to go on in much the same vein.
"Yet the evidence from these studies, and many others, is that those two premises do not stack up - because we're not that skilled at choosing. This doesn't mean that policy-makers should slip into something a little more centrally-planned instead. But it does suggest that ever-proliferating options aren't necessarily helpful or useful."

Phil Hendren in his blog Dizzy Thinks points out some ideas aren't new:

"So, back in 2005, Gordon Brown, as the then Chancellor, said he was going to use money in dormant bank accounts and give it to community projects. The Tories attacked it, quite rightly, on the issue of whether it was even legal to seize the funds from people's dormant bank accounts...
"And now, we reach today, 2010, and we have, yes that's right, the proposals for a 'Big Society Bank' which is, in no way whatsoever the same thing as a 'Social Investment Bank', which will use money from dormant bank accounts to fund community projects."

Mike Smithson suggests in his blog Political Betting that voters won't be impressed with helping stable projects compared to new ones:

"The emphasis on philanthropy is a good one but how well will it go down amongst voters who've been brought up to believe that many core provisions are funded by the state?
"And having spent the last decade and a half as a professional fund-raiser I can tell [David Cameron] that the toughest giving proposition is to ask someone to provide support to deal with the consequences of government cut-backs. Donors like to fund the new and innovative not to keep sustain things that already exist."

Steve Richards wonders in the Independent what happens if the idea doesn't work:

"The risk for Cameron is that his big idea will not work. Quite often the state can deliver where individuals cannot. Last week the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, announced cuts to cooling systems on the overheated Tubes, saving a few million pounds. Under the Big Society he would no doubt call on travellers to bring their own personal fans as a more communal and cheaper alternative. Perhaps some would for a time, but in the end most projects in which the state has some connection require investment, expertise and co-ordination."

Links in full

Aditya Chakrabortty | Guardian | More choice is not helpful to society
Phil Hendren | Dizzy Thinks | Gordon Cameron's Big Social Investment Society Bank
Mike Smithson | Political Betting | Is big society too nebulus a concept?
Anna Coote | Guardian | Cameron's 'big society' will leave the poor and powerless behind
Rory Stewart | Times | Big Society? It's all about liberating the locals
Steve Richards | Independent | But what if the Big Society doesn't work?

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